A springboard for spirituality, a foundation for feeling better, a tool for transition, however you look at The Artist’s Way, once you’ve opened the pages and dipped in (if you’re anything at all like me and the millions of others who have used it), you will question parts of your life, cast off what is no longer serving you, seek your personal truth, grow and flourish (not necessarily in that order).
Your life will improve!
The Artist’s Way and how it’s helped me so far
Here’s how it has helped me so far – and I’m only on Chapter 5.
Stuck in the Virtue Trap
Yesterday marked the beginning of my Week 5, ‘Recovering a sense of possibility’, in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In a section entitled ‘The Virtue Trap’ she talks about how necessary it is for us – as artists (by the way, we are all artists) to have ‘down time’ or ‘creative solitude’.
Too often we are so involved in being ‘nice’ and in serving others, that we completely neglect ourselves and our own (artistic) needs.
Do you recognise this? Are you running around trying to make everybody else happy (kids, work colleagues, friends and family)? Do your own needs fall at the bottom of the pile?
If so, if we don’t ensure that we get creative time for ourselves, then apparently there are dangers! We can become frustated, resentful, angry.
I’m one of those people that can work from home because I’m really self-disciplined. I do the crappy stuff I have to do to get it out of the way. The trouble with that though, is that I often don’t take care of the fun factor. I get caught in the busy trap and forget how to enjoy myself and feed my creative spirit (if ‘creative spirit’ sounds bizarre, it’s what I came up with to replace Julia’s constant reference to ‘God’. You are encouraged to find a replacement you can work with).
Neglecting your creative spirit
With the end of the school holidays, I’d been neglecting my artistic side and concentrating on the kids. That’s normal, but I was feeling a bit uneasy… antsy. Gnarly.
I recognised why I was feeling like that, and what I needed, and decided that today, before doing anything else on my long ‘to do’ list, I would allow myself to write and work on my blog for two whole hours. Just making this commitment to myself made me feel better.
I knew that if I got writing for a couple of hours, then afterwards, I’d get on with all those other jobs – and feel better about doing them.
I was ready to go, but then my partner wanted a chat so I reluctantly pretended to be interested in pottering over a coffee, but I was seething inside and he sensed it. We ended up having a blazing row (about nothing).
‘We eventually become like cornered animals, snarling at our family and friends to leave us alone and stop making unreasonable demands.’Julia Cameron
This, to me, is a very clear illustration of just how important carving out sacred time for your (creative) self is, and what happens if your plans are scuppered.
(It is also a lesson to me to communicate more honestly with my partner!)
Reason No 1: The Artist’s Way gives us permission to be creative, or rather, it teaches us how to give ourselves permission
A lifetime ago – or maybe about five years, a good friend, C, told me about a book which had made a huge impact on her. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She knew I liked to dabble in writing, and I guess she thought it might be useful and encourage me to pursue this.
She explained that there are lots of exercises you do throughout the book that you can pick and choose from. But there are two exercises which are not optional.
One of them is called the ‘Morning pages’, which is basically, three pages of a hand-written stream of consciousness, as soon as you wake up.
The second is a weekly ‘Artist’s date’: in a nutshell, a date with… yourself. It sounded so naughty, not least because she told me through embarrassed giggles. Imagine! The sheer indulgence of taking yourself – and nobody else – off for an hour or two to do something a little bit different or special.
I enjoyed our conversation but then promptly forgot about it.
Or did I? Perhaps I filed it away somewhere deep in my subconscious (in my ‘creative spirit’ file – which is turquoise, by the way, and covered in sparkly dragonflies 😉).
A year or so later my head was under a blanket of grey but I was trying so hard to come out from under it and see the light. In my search for help something drew me towards buying a copy of The Artist’s Way. I was enraptured from the moment I picked up the large format paperback. A beautiful cover picture of ‘Cranes flying by Mount Fuji’ (Nagasawa Rosetu) gives a sense of freedom, peace and possibility (to me). I opened its pages and my adoration grew. Wide margins contain inspirational quotes from a diverse range of thinkers. It felt comforting yet sacred at the same time and it’s written in a friendly and encouraging tone.
I loved it so much that I immediately bought a copy for my friend, C.
The moment I handed it to her it dawned on me that, aha, she had told me about this book already!
How we laughed 😊
I guess my subconscious (or my creative spirit) had placed it strategically somewhere in my (tiny little) mind so that it popped up just at a time that I needed it the most.
Julia Cameron might call it synchronicity or serendipity.
What is The Artist’s Way?
Essentially, the author describes her book as ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self’. It is a 12-week course, but you can do it at the pace you are most comfortable with. With every chapter comes exercises to help you uncover and unleash your creativity, whether that be as a writer, a painter, a sculptor, but also, as anything else such as a lawyer or stay-at-home parent.
It is really about unblocking anything (voices from the past which have turned into the monster of your inner critic) that is stopping you from being the creative soul you were born to be. You are encouraged to nurture your (creative) self and fiercely guard your time to practise your art.
The first time around – An eye-opener, a mind opener
The first time around, when I began the book in 2016, I dared open my mind to the possibility, just the possibility, that I might have a creative side in hiding (still), after all, and that just perhaps, my creative spirit deserved the chance to see the light. Maybe even, I could let my creative side… flourish?
‘The ideas we are comfortable with are in the room with us. The other ideas are out and we keep them out.’Julia Cameron
And so I opened that imaginary door from the Week 2 chapter (in which our mind is a room of our ‘usual ideas’) just a crack, to let a ray or two of outside ideas, that incredible world out there… in.
‘Nudging the door open a bit more is what makes for open-mindedness.’Julia Cameron
I did some of the exercises and got about halfway through and I’m not sure now why I stopped. Perhaps I just didn’t have the strength at the time to keep believing I deserved it.
I did continue with the morning pages for quite some time though. They were full of panic, fear, and darkness. I vented my shame and grief and despair on those pages and I’m sure it helped.
Only thing is, I think I got stuck in the ‘angry’ or ‘protecting ferociously’ my artistic side part. I needed it at the time, perhaps… but now it’s more than time to get ‘unstuck’.
The second time around – A shared work group
I am rereading The Artist’s Way now. But this time, I know that I will finish it. And the second time around, it is a truly exhilarating read.
Reason Number 2: No matter how far you get through it, it helps
Reading it again made me realise how much I had got out of it the first time despite not having finished the book.
When my head was in a big old mess, going through the first chapters and doing the exercises was a huge part of freeing me from the darkness. They offered me the beginnings of a recovery. They validated my feelings of frustration and encouraged any small seeds of hope, pushing me to nurture them, to hold them up to the light and to let them grow.
Writing stuff down and reclaiming time for me gave a real shift to my perspective.
In fact, if I hadn’t begun ‘the work’ that Julia sets in her book, I might not have had the courage to sign up for an online fiction workshop with the Unthank School of Writing.
If I hadn’t joined the course, I wouldn’t have had the bi-weekly tasks of submitting 2000 words of a work in progress for the other students (and ultimately our tutor, Stephen Carver) to read.
And if I hadn’t had that homework, I wouldn’t have finished writing (nor perhaps even properly started) my first novel.
I probably wouldn’t have started my blog either.
So… I am excited to see what’s going to happen when I do the entire book!
Reason No 3: It prompts discussion with others who are looking for greater fulfilment
It really does create connection. Not only did my friend, C, recommend the book to me, but a few months ago, a different friend who I’d not been in touch with for years, messaged me with, ‘I wanted to reach out after having read your blog.’ We had a chat, and then he said, ‘So-and-so (yet Another Friend who I must have discussed ‘That Book’ with) mentioned you have read The Artist’s Way.’
It prompts discussion and connection with others who are looking for greater fulfilment, whether artistically, or simply who are searching for… that certain elusive something that can somehow be missing from our lives.
An activity to share
When I was reading the book the first time around I remember feeling so excited that I began to elaborate grand plans about hosting Artist’s Way workshops or finding (or founding) groups, so when I saw a post from writer and podcast host Nicole Rivera referring to a post by writer, Sam Kimberle, inviting interested parties into an Artist’s Way workgroup I wrote to Sam.
She sent a warm and welcoming reply. I was in. And the group was starting… really soon. Yikes!
Earlier I bragged about how I get stuff done and am super-organised. However, with this workgroup, I had over-committed. It was the school holidays and I just, you know, put my head in the sand (on Blackpool beach, as it happens) and pretended that if I didn’t think about it, the start date for the first session (and including when we were to begin the book) would just magically remain in the future.
Despite my best intentions, my second time around of reading The Artist’s Way didn’t start as planned – you can read about my shaky beginnings in the group here.
Two hours is up. In fact, it’s been a little over, so I really need to get back to that long ‘to do’ list. But I feel better. I’ve nurtured my creative spirit and given myself what I needed.
Thank you, Julia!
But how about you? Do you nurture your creative spirit (or God or whatever you would like to call that side of you that was born to create)? Do you give your artistic side what it needs?
And if anybody is thinking about picking up The Artist’s Way, all I can suggest is, Do.